Meet the people behind the government’s energy cost review

Utility Week profiles the individuals selected to guide government’s high profile investigation of the cost of energy in the UK.

Economist Dieter Helm Economist Dieter Helm

Government has launched its keenly anticipated cost of energy review, kicking off its campaign to achieve the lowest energy costs in Europe for UK businesses and consumers. 

To guide the review and ensure a wide range of interests are represented, an eclectic panel of energy experts has been pulled together. It will be led by Oxford professor and economist Dieter Helm – a controversial choice given his robust views on the value of renewables and the challenge of decarbonisation.

Utility Week rounds up Helm’s credentials and profiles the other personalities who will influence this key review: 

Dieter Helm, professor and economist

“My review will be independent and sort out the facts from the myths  about the cost of  energy, and make recommendations about how to more effectively achieve the overall  objectives.”

Utilities celebrity Dieter Helm is not shy of controversy. The economist has made his mark in the sector in recent years, putting forward challenging views on the low carbon transition, the continued role of fossil fuels in the energy system and the value of renewables – especially solar PV, to the UK. He has also refused to lay down arms on the strucuture of the smart meter rollout, maintaining calls for suppliers to be stripped of responsibility for the programme in favour of energy distribution networks.

Helm’s academic pedigree is impressive. He is a professor at the University of Oxford, a fellow of New College, Oxford, and professorial research fellow of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. He is also associate editor of the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and a director of Aurora Energy Research. In December 2015, Helm was reappointed as independent chair of the Natural Capital Committee. He has also authored of numerous books.

Dieter’s top ten quotes on energy

  1. “The current state of the energy sector is sufficiently serious to merit rapid action. He [energy secretary Greg Clark] cannot engage in the luxury of reviews and reports. He needs to act.”

  2. “Like the Green Deal, the smart meter programme started out as a good idea, but has been badly implemented.”

  3. “The mistake of putting suppliers in the driving seat led the Miliband-Huhne-Davey framework to downplay the system benefits of smart meters.”

  4. “There is enough evidence of failure [of the smart meter rollout]. Now is the time to take stock and reconsider.”

  5. “The energy sector is not in good shape. It is not fit for the purposes of a major industrial economy.”

  6. “The quality of the CMA Report was widely believed to be poor.”

  7. “The CMA prides itself on understanding competition and markets. But consider a very simple question: why has no major supplier (or any supplier) offered a lower standard variable tariff? The CMA has no answer.”

  8. “It is no wonder that Martin Cave dissented from the final report: he had good reasons to do so.”

  9. “The economics of supply are pretty simple – unsurprisingly since selling homogenous products, electricity and gas, to customers is a pretty simple business.”

  10. “Sorting out electricity is not conceptually difficult.”

Laura Sandys, chief executive, Challenging ideas

 “The sector think they are super competitive, but actually what they  mean is, there are lots of competitors. They are talking a numbers game rather than a market game.”

A self-professed green Tory, Sandys is a former MP who served as parliamentary private secretary to then energy minister Greg Barker from 2012 to 2014. She stepped away from politics in 2015 and now leads a consultancy – Challenging Ideas – specialising in business transformation and innovation. Challenging Ideas is also working with Imperial College London and The Energy Systems Catapult on a project to develop an “alternative” regulatory model for a transformed energy system. Sandys has firm views on the need for alignment between energy policy and social policy to tackle rising vulnerability and equity challenges in the energy system and is a Utility Week columnist.

Terry Scouler, chief executive, EEF

“We are delighted to see manufacturers’ long-running concerns over the  competitiveness of UK electricity costs addressed through this manifesto commitment to achieving the lowest energy costs in Europe.”

A former military man and an economist, Scouler has been chief executive of manufacturing trade body EEF since 2010. The organisation has campaigned long and hard for policy action to counteract “uncompetitive” energy costs for manufacturers in the UK and was quick to welcome the Conservative manifesto commitment to carry out a review of the cost of energy. Until July, Scouler was also chair of CEEMET, a pan-European manufacturing trade body. It was a position he took up before the EU referendum with an ambition to “reform from within” to improve the efficiency of industry interactions with the European Parliament and its commissions.

Nick Winser, chairman, Energy Systems Catapult

 “RIIO was a massive step forward for encouragement of innovation…But I am sure there will be good debate about what will be fit for purpose as  you see the emerging picture of all these different dimensions of change, right across the energy system.”

Ex-executive director for National Grid’s UK business, Winser is a consummate energy systems expert. He was one of the leading minds behind the current RIIO regime for energy network regulation and shaped Grid’s early approach to using demand-side balancing mechanisms. After leaving Grid, Winser was appointed to bring the Energy System Catapult, a government-funded innovation hub, into being. He told Utility Week the move was “the easiest decision I’ve ever made”. The Catapult now leads the Future Power System Architecture project which has challenged the ability of existing institutional arrangements in the energy system to meet the demands of a decentralised future.

Richard Nourse, managing partner, Greencoat Capital

We think solar is going to be huge for generation across Europe in the next ten years.”

 

Formerly an investment banker, Nourse is co-founder and managing partner of Greencoat Capital – the specialist renewables fund manager which manages around $1.8 billion in infrastructure and private equity mandates. Nourse is in charge of the company’s overall investment strategy and is a member of the investment committee. Prior to co-founding Greencoat, Nourse enjoyed a long career in the City – first at Morgan Grenfell and then at Merrill Lynch where he led the EMEA energy and power team. On leaving Merrill Lynch in 2007, he joined the Shareholder Executive – part of the UK government – with responsibility for British Energy, BNFL and Urenco. He remains a non-executive director of Urenco, as well as sitting on the boards of two of ESB NM LP’s investments: Airvolution and Aveillant.

Isobel Sheldon, director, Johnson Matthey Battery Systems

Isobel Sheldon joined Johnson Matthey Battery Systems as engineering and technology director in January 2016. Prior to that she was business manager at Ricardo UK – with responsibility for the development of the company's battery design, development and manufacturing strategy, and commercial lead for battery business development. She has also been managing director of Amberjac Projects and programme manager at L&L Products.

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